Education secretary Gavin Williamson has told the Telegraph that he is considering plans for a “short delay” to next summer’s GCSE and A-Level exams to allow for more teaching time and give pupils an opportunity to catch up with their studies.
The news comes after a teachers’ survey suggested that children in England are three months behind their studies after lockdown, with boys and poorer pupils among the worst affected. Teachers have also said that the learning gap between rich and poor pupils has grown by almost half since schools closed in March for all but the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils.
The Telegraph reports that its sources have suggested next summer's exams could take place in June and July but would be completed before the start of the holidays.
Responding to concerns raised by parents about the impact of lost learning time, Williamson told the Telegraph: “I know there’s some concern about next year’s exams, and that’s why we’ve been working with Ofqual [the exams regulator] on changes we can make to help pupils when they take GCSEs and A-Levels next year.
“Ofqual will continue to work with the education sector and other stakeholders on whether there should be a short delay to the GCSE, A and AS-level exam timetable in 2021, with the aim of creating more teaching time.”
Schools minister Nick Gibb has said that a final decision on the delay will be made “very soon”.
Meanwhile, Simon Case, a former private secretary to the Duke of Cambridge, has been appointed cabinet secretary by the prime minister in lieu of the outgoing Sir Mark Sedwill.
The Financial Times first broke the story over the weekend that Case, who was made permanent secretary at Number Ten earlier in the year, was expected to be appointed as Sir Mark’s successor.
Those reports were verified on Tuesday, with Boris Johnson saying that Case was “ideally suited” to the job and officially confirming his appointment during a cabinet meeting.
Case takes up the role as the UK’s leading civil servant two months after Sir Mark announced he would step down. He will now take on his predecessor's responsibilities of advising the prime minister on implementing policy and the conduct of government ministers.
In an acceptance statement, Case said: "Over these few months of working on the Covid response [at Downing Street], I have seen how much hard work is being done by the Civil Service to support the government and our country through unprecedented times.
"It is a privilege to come into this role to lead a service that is working day in, day out to deliver for people right across the country."
Case will take up his new role on September 9 but will not be tasked with Sir Mark's national security duties which he had held during his stint as cabinet secretary. These will instead be handled by chief Brexit negotiator David Frost, who will step into his new job on December 9.
During the cabinet meeting, the first since Parliament’s summer recess, Johnson warned that there was likely to be more of “this wretched Covid still to come”, but stressed that he was “absolutely confident” in the UK’s ability to “deal with those outbreaks”.
In Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has prioritised jobs and training for young people in her annual programme for government.
As the country steps up its plans to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Sturgeon said that her vision was for Scotland to “rebuild an economy that is stronger, fairer and more sustainable”.
The Covid-19 crisis has already put the brakes on many of Holyrood’s plans, with proposals for a tourist tax and reforms to the Gender Recognition Act being shelved to prioritise dealing with the outbreak.
The pandemic has also seen sharp rises in the number of benefit claimants in Scotland, with more than 700,000 employees in the country placed on the furlough scheme.
Sturgeon said when presenting her programme that measures to control the virus had to be her government’s “immediate priority” as it was “the single most important thing that we as a nation can do to allow our economy to continue to open up safely”.
She said: "Put simply, if Covid runs rampant again, our economy will sustain even deeper, longer lasting damage. However, we will not simply hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.
"Even amidst the uncertainties of a global pandemic, this is a time to be ambitious and to use the disruption of Covid to rethink how we do things."
Looking forward, she called it a “national mission” to “create new, green jobs across Scotland with fair pay and good conditions”.
Among the plans is a “youth guarantee” which will retrain young people to work in new industries such as low-carbon sectors, and investment targeting “green jobs” to keep the younger generation in employment.
The £60 million initiative will be supported by additional funds to finance apprenticeships.
Sturgeon said: "Equipping people with skills for the future to keep them in work or get back into employment will be critical. From our young people entering the job market for the first time to older workers who need to retrain, we will make sure that no one is left behind."
Sturgeon also confirmed that there would be a draft bill on a second independence referendum within the programme, but it is unlikely that it will be passed prior to the next Scottish Parliament elections due in May 2021.